This is Serena Williams' mission off the tennis court

The tennis star is trying to spread awareness about financial abuse, an often overlooked aspect of domestic violence.
Image: Serena Williams
Serena Williams attends the Sports Illustrated Fashionable 50 at The Sunset Room on July 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

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By Halley Bondy

When it comes to relationship abuse, many people focus on the physical and emotional toll. There’s one big aspect, however, that’s often overlooked: financial abuse.

Serena Williams is trying to change that.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the tennis champion sat down with Know Your Value contributor Daniela Pierre-Bravo earlier this week at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Detroit. The two discussed what financial abuse is and how people can fight it.

Since 2017, Williams has been an ambassador for The Allstate Foundation's Purple Purse, which financially empowers victims of abuse. Financial abuse is when one partner has control of the other’s access to economic resources, which makes it harder for the victim to support themselves — and ultimately break free from the relationship.

Financial abuse, Williams noted, occurs in an astounding 99 percent of domestic violence cases

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“Know the signs,” Williams told Pierre-Bravo. For example, if “you can’t use your credit card, someone is telling you how to spend your money or what to do, or you’re not being allowed to buy something simple, or [having to] show receipts from grocery store runs.”

Also, be wary if someone forcefully orders food for you at a restaurant, advised Williams, who has spoken to financial abuse survivors over the past three years.

“It’s such a simple thing, and personally I’m the type of person that likes it sometimes when people order food for me, but it’s a different way how it’s done,” Williams said. “If someone says ‘listen, let me order for you,’ it could be a small sign. I never thought about it like that.”

Williams explained that financial abuse, by design, makes a victim economically dependent on the abuser.

“It’s not so easy to walk away...Your credit could be ruined,” said Williams. “...You blame yourself, you might have kids. It’s a difficult situation.”

She suggested treading lightly and positively if you know someone who is a victim of financial abuse.

“I’ve had a friend that’s been in a situation like that, and I would always tell her: ‘you can talk to me, but I really don’t think this is the best situation for you,’” said Williams. “I never really judged her...I just tried to be supportive to her.”

RELATED: Recognizing abuse and starting a conversation with a victim

Instead of saying “this guy sucks,” for example, Williams suggested reminding a victim that different circumstances are possible. Williams suggested feedback like “Oh, remember you used to do this...Maybe you should try this.”

“Use your words wisely. Encourage them to leave in the most positive way you can,” said Williams.

Williams’ work with Allstate is one of the tennis pro’s many philanthropic endeavors. Her venture capital firm Serena Ventures invests in companies owned by women, people of color and young entrepreneurs. She said she hopes to change the face of the C-Suite.

“What better way to change the narrative than to be the big boss of the narrative. Then, you naturally hire people who are more diverse,” she said.